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Leechburg won’t raise taxes

Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, November 19, 2014 10:09 a.m

Real estate taxes are expected to hold steady next year for Leechburg home-owners.

Council approved a tentative 2015 budget on Tuesday that retains the borough’s tax rate of 15.32 mills for the sixth consecutive year.

The budget calls for $1.12 million in spending, which reflects a 37 percent decrease from this year. Officials were able to reduce spending, not through the elimination of any borough jobs or services, but uniform cuts across all areas of the budget, Council President Tony Defillippi said.

“We wanted to be as frugal as possible while still providing all of the same basic and necessary services to our residents,” Defillippi said. “Especially with our sewer separation project coming up, we wanted to make cuts where and whenever we could.”

Fees for services such as fire protection and garbage pickup will remain the same.

Officials were unable to say Tuesday, however, whether residents’ sewer user fees would increase to help cover the debt the borough took on to complete the long-awaited, final portion of the sewer separation project. The quarterly fees are $33.48.

Sewer project

The borough opened construction bids Tuesday for that phase of the sewer separation project.

With the lowest bid coming in at more than $1 million over the engineers’ construction estimate, Leechburg will need approval from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, or PennVEST, before a contract is awarded.

Council agreed on Tuesday that, if PennVEST and project overseer Ben Bothell of Senate Engineering approve the specifications submitted by the lowest responsible bidder, the contractor would be awarded the work.

The borough received seven bids ranging from $9.3 million to $15.9 million. The lowest bid was submitted by Mortimer’s Excavating of Lawrence County.

Solicitor James Favero said the project should still continue as scheduled, with work beginning in January, despite the obstacle.

About 810 households will be affected by the work, with crews separating and replacing about 40,000 feet of stormwater and sanitary sewer lines in most of the borough’s downtown.

The area that will be most affected is a stretch between Summit and River avenues and both bends of the Kiski River.

The project is expected to wrap up by early 2016.

To pay for the work, Leechburg successfully sought out an $11 million PennVEST funding package this year. The borough received the majority of the funding up front in the form of a grant, but must repay $4.3 million of it with a 1 percent interest rate over 30 years.

Leechburg only receives the PennVEST funding in increments after proving, step-by-step, that it’s fulfilling the state authority’s requirements.

In an effort to avoid payment complications with the project contractor, officials began last month exploring interim funding options.

On Tuesday, council approved a proposal for a $1.5 million line of credit with Apollo Trust Co. If the proposal is finalized, the borough will be required to repay any money pulled from the line of credit by June 2016 at an interest rate of 2 percent.

Council took out a $100,000 tax anticipation loan to cover borough expenses until it starts to receive tax revenue in March. First Commonwealth Bank, the lending agency, is requiring that the borough repay the loan with 1.8 percent interest by December 2015.

Councilman appointed

Council appointed Wayne Dobos to fill the council seat left vacant by Sheran Kupas’ resignation last month.

Dobos, 65, of Second Street is a lifelong Leechburg resident and Vietnam veteran. It is the registered independent’s first time in public office.

“I wanted to help council make the right decisions for Leechburg,” Dobos said. “I’ve lived here all my life.”

Dobos’ seat expires in November 2016.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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